Huge Somalia suicide car bomb kills dozens in capital
Tuesday, 04 October 2011 16:34
At least 70 people have been killed by a huge suicide blast near a government compound in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, say officials.
Eyewitnesses said a truck carrying explosives was driven into a gate near a government ministry and detonated.
A spokesman for the Islamist militant group al-Shabab told the BBC it had carried out the attack.
It is the largest attack since al-Shabab withdrew its forces from Mogadishu in August.
Rescue workers said more than 50 people had been injured in the blast. Many of the victims were soldiers and students who had been waiting at the education ministry.
The UN-backed transitional government condemned the attack and said no senior government officials were hurt in the blast. Government members were meeting in the building near the blast site at the time.
"The attack shows that the danger from terrorists is not yet over and that there are obviously still people who want to derail the advances that the Somali people have made towards peace," it said in a statement.
The government statement set the number of dead at 15, but it was not clear whether this was only an initial count.
'Walls fell apart'
The blast struck outside a compound housing government buildings in Kilometre Four (K4) - a crossroads in central Mogadishu.
Police officer Ali Hussein told the Associated Press news agency that the vehicle had exploded after pulling up at a checkpoint on the way into the official compound.
Somalia's Planning Minister Abdullahi Godah Barreh told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme he was in his office when the blast hit.
"All of a sudden a huge, huge sound and all the furniture and all the windows and all the walls started falling apart," he said.
The vehicle carrying the explosives was big, he said, about an eight- or 10-tonne truck.
"The building that has been destroyed houses eight ministries, and you can imagine how crowded it would have been."
He said the area was protected, "but unfortunately, it was not good enough".
"Almost half of the cabinet sit in that building. So you can understand it was a good target for them - the terrorists."
BBC Somali's Mohammed Dhore in Mogadishu said vehicles were on fire, bodies lying in the street and shocked soldiers were randomly firing into the air in the aftermath.
Our correspondent said it was the worst incident he had ever come across.
One aid worker said the force of the blast had thrown body parts hundreds of metres away.
Among those killed were soldiers guarding the offices and students who had been queuing for exam results at the education ministry, hoping to gain a scholarship to study in Turkey.
Ali Abdullahi, a nurse at Medina hospital in the city, said victims were being brought in with horrific wounds, including burns and lost limbs. Some had been blinded, he said.
"It is the most awful tragedy I have ever seen," he told AP.
"Dozens are being brought here minute-by-minute. Most of the wounded people are unconscious and others have their faces blackened by smoke and heat."
Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991 - the weak transitional government and Islamist militias are competing for control of the country.
Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, controls large swathes of south and central Somalia.
It retreated from Mogadishu two months ago following an offensive by African Union troops,, but analysts had predicted that without a front line, the organisation was likely to begin carrying out more bombings, including suicide attacks.
Last week, al-Shabab tried but failed to seize two towns from pro-government forces near Somalia's border with Kenya.
Somalia's political instability has been compounded in the past year by the worst drought in six decades, which has forced tens of thousands of people to flee to Mogadishu in search of food.
The UN has declared a famine in six regions of Somalia.
The BBC's East Africa correspondent, Will Ross, said the latest attack will not only worry the government, but also the aid agencies, who have been taking great risks to get food to the drought victims.
Afghanistan and India sign 'strategic partnership'
Tuesday, 04 October 2011 16:27
The leaders of Afghanistan and India have signed a strategic partnership agreement during a visit by President Hamid Karzai to Delhi.
Mr Karzai met Indian PM Manmohan Singh, who said violence in Afghanistan was undermining security in South Asia.
He also said that India would "stand by Afghanistan" when foreign troops withdraw from the country in 2014.
Mr Karzai's visit follows a series of attacks which have damaged ties between Kabul and India's rival, Pakistan.
Correspondents say the increasingly close relationship between Kabul and Delhi will be viewed with some suspicion by Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as its backyard.
India is a major player in Afghanistan and has already pledged $2bn (£1.3bn) in assistance.
At a press conference in Delhi, Mr Singh said that the strategic partnership between the two countries will create an "institutional framework" so that India can help in Afghan "capacity building" in the areas of education, development and people-to-people contacts.
The pact is believed to include an Indian commitment to increase its training of Afghan security forces, including the police, although Mr Singh made no reference to that in his press conference remarks.
Mr Singh said that his Afghan counterpart had shown 'sagacious leadership'
The prime minister said that the two countries had also signed two agreements relating to Afghanistan's energy requirements which represented "a new dimension in economic relations" to enable Kabul to integrate more effectively with the Indian economy and other economies in South Asia.
He said that the people of India sympathised with Afghanistan as it sought to cope with "acts of terrorism... particularly the assassination of [peace envoy] Burhanuddin Rabbani".
President Karzai said that he was "grateful" for India's help as his country strives to overcome "violence and extremist activities".
In his statement, Mr Karzai reiterated that his government would work closely with the US, Europe and India to plan Afghanistan's future.
The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder says that Delhi is concerned about the security situation in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially as foreign troops begin to withdraw from the region.
India is one of Afghanistan's biggest donors, having pledged money for projects ranging from road construction to the building of the Afghan parliament - and is keen to play a bigger role.
Delhi has often accused Islamabad of links to groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani network that have carried out attacks in Afghanistan on Indian targets, including an assault on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008, in which 40 people were killed.
Rick Perry suggests US military role in Mexico drug war
Monday, 03 October 2011 10:05
Texas Governor Rick Perry - who is seeking the Republican nomination for US president - has said he would consider sending American troops into Mexico to combat drug-related violence.
Mr Perry was speaking during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire.
"It may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border," he said.
Such a move would go far beyond current US involvement in Mexico's drugs war.
The suggestion is also likely to irritate Mexico's government over the sensitive issue, correspondents say.
Governor Perry gave no further details of what sort of possible military intervention he would consider.
"I don't know all the different scenarios that would be out there," he said.
"But I think it is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing".
After the speech, the White House said it would continue its "historic level of cooperation with Mexico" to protect people on both sides of the border.
President Obama has backed Mexican President Felipe Calderon's campaign against the cartels
The Obama administration currently provides substantial material support to Mexican security forces, as well as close intelligence cooperation.
The US has also deployed National Guard troops to boost border security, and uses pilotless drone aircraft to gather intelligence inside Mexico.
Any deployment of US military forces on Mexican territory would almost certainly be unacceptable to the Mexican authorities.
Mexico lost around half its territory to the US after a war in the 1840s, and has since been very protective of its sovereignty.
The Mexican constitution also places strict limits on foreign intervention.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been pressing the US to do more to reduce demand for drugs among its citizens and to reduce the flow of weapons from the US to the cartels.
Correspondents say Mr Perry's comments may be aimed at showing he is tough on border security and illegal immigration - issues on which he has been attacked by other contenders for the Republican nomination.
Amanda Knox says she is innocent of Kercher murder
Monday, 03 October 2011 09:39
Amanda Knox has made a courtroom appeal against her conviction for the murder of UK student Meredith Kercher, saying she was "paying with her life".
The US student told a jury in Perugia: "I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there."
Her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito earlier denied accusing Knox of the murder and said he was in a "nightmare" he had never woken up from.
A verdict on the appeals is not expected until Monday evening.
Knox, 24, who was sentenced to 26 years in jail in 2009, said she had been betrayed and manipulated.
Tearful, and speaking in fluent Italian, she said: "I am not who they say I am. The perversion, the violence, the lack of respect for life - I did not do the things they are saying I did.
"I did not kill, I did not rape, I did not steal. I was not there."
Knox has been working on her speech for three months, her father told BBC correspondent Luisa Baldini.
Raffaele Sollecito, 27, who was given a 25-year term, told the jury he had never harmed anyone in his life and the claims against him were "totally untrue".
"I've heard that I have accused Amanda, this in not true, this is totally untrue," he said.
His lawyer Giulia Bongiorno told reporters his client was "very emotional" but "strong" and sure of his innocence.
"We do say there have been an awful lot of mistakes, mainly not asking for an expert opinion," she said.
"The way things were personalised was something I didn't particularly like."
The pair have since been taken back to jail while the jury considers its verdict.
Prosecutors have said they will appeal if the verdict is overturned.
Much of the case has centred on a review of DNA evidence on a knife, thought to be the murder weapon, which indicated that the evidence could be flawed.
The defence team has also challenged witness sightings of Knox and Sollecito near the murder scene.
But prosecutors have called for the sentences to be increased to life terms, saying there was also considerable circumstantial evidence putting the ex-lovers at the scene of the killing.
Knox told the jury: "I had good relationships with everybody who was living in my flat. I was untidy, careless, but we did have good relationships.
"I shared my life, particularly with Meredith. She was always very kind towards me. Meredith was killed and I have always wanted justice for her. I do not run away from the truth and I've never run away from it."
She added: "I want to go back home. I want to go back to my life. I don't want to be punished. I don't want my life and my future to be taken away for something I didn't do because I am innocent."
Francesco Maresca, the Kercher family lawyer, said it was a tense, emotional time for them as the verdict neared.
He said the Kerchers have followed the appeal closely, and think the legal process had been "thorough".
"The Kerchers are fully satisfied with what has been done by the judges," he said.
The trial has heard some colourful phrases used to describe Knox, with one lawyer comparing the American to Who Framed Roger Rabbit cartoon character Jessica Rabbit, and another to a witch.
How Perugia's Court of Appeal works
- Appeal decided by a jury of eight, made up of main judge - in this case Claudio Pratillo Hellmann - another judge and six jurors from the general public
- Judges take part and vote as part of the jury, but guide rather than instruct others how to vote
- Jury can overturn or uphold the convictions of Knox and Sollecito, and keep their sentences the same, raise them to life, or cut them
- Jury must stay in chambers until a verdict is reached
- If verdicts are upheld, Knox and Sollecito have one more chance to appeal - in Italy's highest appeals court
Carlo Pacelli, who represents Diya "Patrick" Lumumba - the man Knox originally accused of the murder - said she had a split personality.
One side was "angelic, good, compassionate, and in some ways even saintly", but the other side was "Lucifer-like, demonic, satanic, diabolic" and "longs to live out borderline extreme behaviour", he said.
Knox's family have said they will take her back to Seattle immediately if her conviction is overturned, despite prosecutors vowing to appeal.
Andrea Vogt, a freelance journalist for the Seattle Post, said a big party was already under way in Knox's home city.
People had gathered to hold a vigil and erupted in applause after Knox's speech to the appeals court, she added.
If freed, the reception to Knox's return would be "overwhelmingly positive" in Seattle. But if her conviction was upheld, there would be "an outcry from the US", she added.
Miss Kercher, from Coulsdon, south London, had been sharing a cottage in Perugia with Knox during an year abroad from Leeds University.
Prosecutors say she was killed in a brutal sex game which went wrong. Her throat had been slit and she had been sexually assaulted.
Miss Kercher's family have said they feel the true victim has been "completely forgotten", with the media's focus on Knox.
Our correspondent said Miss Kercher's family had now arrived in Perugia. A representative from the British Consulate in Rome had also arrived to offer any help should they need it, she said.
Miss Kercher's mother, father and sister will hold a news conference ahead of the court's decision at 16:00 local time (15:00 BST).
A third person - Rudy Guede, 24 - was also convicted of Miss Kercher's murder in a separate trial and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
His conviction was upheld on appeal but his sentence reduced to 16 years.
Islamist cleric Anwar Awlaki killed in Yemen
Friday, 30 September 2011 10:31
US-born radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a key al-Qaeda leader, has been killed in Yemen, the country's defence ministry said.
Unnamed US officials confirmed he had died in a US air strike, but gave no further details.
Awlaki, of Yemeni descent, has been on the run in Yemen since December 2007.
The US named him a "global terrorist" and said he played a "significant role" in a number of attacks, including plots to blow up US airliners.
President Barack Obama is said to have personally ordered his killing.
Yemen's defence ministry statement said only that Awlaki had died in Khashef in Jawf province, about 140km (87 miles) east of the capital, Sanaa, "along with some of his companions".
It later named one of those as Samir Khan, also a US citizen but of Pakistani origin, who produced an online magazine promoting al-Qaeda's ideology, the Associated Press reports.
The death was also announced on Yemeni TV.
Local tribal leaders told the AFP news agency that Awlaki had been moving around within Yemen in recent weeks to evade capture. Local people told AP he had been travelling between Jawf and Marib when he died.
Unnamed US official told AP that Awlaki's convoy was hit by a US drone and jet strike.
One senior official told ABC News it was "a great day for America".
He had played a "significant operational role in the Christmas 2009 Detroit airline bomb attempt, said officials, and in the plot which sent two bombs in printer cartridges on US-bound cargo planes in 2010. They were intercepted in the UK and Dubai.
Awalaki has been implicated in the 2009 US army base killings in Fort Hood, Texas, and a failed bombing in New York's Times Square in 2010.
When he was imam of a San Diego mosque in the 1990s, his sermons were attended by two future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
He also lived in the UK from 2002-04, where he spent several months giving lectures to Muslim youth.
In a video posted in November last year he called for the killing of Americans, saying they were from the "party of devils".
Weeks later, he survived an air strike in Shabwa province in which at least 30 militants were killed.
He has been reported dead in the past following US air strikes on southern Yemen in December 2009 and November 2010. He was the target of a US drone attack that killed two al Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen on 5 May.
The official who spoke to ABC said there had been "a good opportunity to hit him" on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this year, but that "it never materialised".
Judge moves toward declaring Natalee Holloway dead
Friday, 30 September 2011 09:16
A judge ruled Friday that Natalee Holloway's father has met the legal presumption of her death and now it's up to someone to prove she did not die six years ago on a high school graduation trip to Aruba.
Jefferson County's probate judge rejected a request by Dave Holloway's ex-wife, Beth Holloway, not to proceed with steps to declare their oldest child dead. The judge's ruling Friday afternoon is the first of two rulings necessary for a declaration of death. The second could come in early 2012.
In a hearing, Dave Holloway became teary eyed and his voice cracked as he asked Probate Judge Alan King to bring legal closure to the case.
Beth Holloway did not attend because she was in California for a speech. Her attorney, Charlie DeBardeleben, said, she was "horrified" by her ex-husband's efforts and she doesn't want her oldest child declared dead.
"There is always a glimmer of hope, especially when there is no hard evidence she is dead," the lawyer said.
The next step is to run legal notices in a newspaper to allow anyone to come forward with evidence that Natalee Holloway is alive at age 24. If no one does, the judge would hold another hearing in about three months, where he could issue a final order of death.
The Holloways divorced in 1993. Natalee Holloway was raised by her mother in Mountain Brook, a wealthy Birmingham suburb, and spent every other weekend with her father, an insurance agent in Meridian, Miss.
Dave Holloway described in court how he saw his daughter for the last time at her high school graduation in Mountain Brook in May 2005. Then she left with her classmates for Aruba. She was last seen leaving a bar on the Caribbean island about 1:30 a.m. on May 30, 2005.
Dave Holloway recounted the extensive searches by land, sea and air and how no sign of his daughter was found.
His attorney, Karen Hennecy, asked, ""Dave, do you believe Natalee is alive today?"
"No," he answered quietly.
Holloway said he based his conclusion partially on statements by the primary suspect, Joran van der Sloot, that he had seen her die.
Van der Sloot is not charged in her disappearance, but he is imprisoned in Peru where he is accused of killing a 21-year-old woman in May 2010.
Holloway testified that he was surprised by his wife's objection and called the FBI agent in charge of the investigation Thursday night to make sure the agency still considered it a homicide case. Holloway said he told the agent, "'I need to know right now has anything changed?' He said it has not."
He also pointed out that he and his ex-wife signed affidavits in 2007 saying that they presumed their daughter was dead and they gave those affidavits to Aruban authorities in hopes it would result in charges being filed.
If Natalee Holloway is ruled dead, her father could use her $2,000 college fund for her younger brother, Matt, and could stop paying for hospital insurance for her, attorney Mark White said.
During the searches in 2005, Dave and Natalee Holloway were united in their search for information about their child. The court hearing Friday showed their relationship has changed.
DeBardeleben complained that Dave Holloway never told his ex-wife that he was seeking a declaration of death, and she learned about it when a process server "posing as a fan" delivered legal papers to her in Georgia while she was at a speaking engagement.
Dave Holloway said he learned about his wife's objections from a statement she released to the media Thursday.
DeBardeleben acknowledged there is "no communication back and forth."
Colorado cantaloupes kill up to 16 in listeria outbreak
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 10:41
At least 13 deaths and 72 illnesses have been linked to an outbreak of listeriosis from Colorado cantaloupes, health officials say, in the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade. Three other deaths may also be related to the tainted fruit, which are linked to a farm in the town of Holly and have been recalled. Bacteria were also found on equipment and produce at the farm's packing site.
The FDA is investigating how the contamination could have happened.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns the number of incidents is likely to grow, since symptoms can take four weeks or more to appear.
"That long incubation period is a real problem," Dr Robert Tauxe of the CDC said.
"People who ate a contaminated food two weeks ago or even a week ago could still be falling sick weeks later."
Most healthy adults are unlikely to suffer ill effects from listeria, however, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are more vulnerable.
Correspondents say the median age of those affected is 78.
Since 31 July, incidents have been reported in 18 US states with fatalities confirmed in areas as far apart as Texas, New Mexico and Maryland.
Listeria bacteria can grow at room temperature, even refrigerator temperatures, unlike many other pathogens.
The CDC and US Food and Drug Administration have advised that all potentially contaminated produce is thrown away immediately, and that any surfaces it may have touched are sanitised.
In 1988, 21 people died in a listeria outbreak from contaminated hot dogs, while in 1985, 52 deaths were linked to listeria contamination in Mexican-style soft cheese.
The CDC says around 800 listeria cases are reported in the US each year.
Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray goes on trial
Wednesday, 28 September 2011 10:34
|Michael Jackson's personal physician, Conrad Murray, has gone on trial in Los Angeles, charged with involuntary manslaughter of the singer. Prosecutors said he acted with "gross negligence" and gave Jackson a lethal dose of the sedative propofol that caused his death in June 2009. The defense said Jackson gave himself too much of the drug, a sleeping aid.
Dr Murray, 58, who denies the charge, could face four years in jail and the loss of his medical license.
In Tuesday's opening statement, lead prosecutor David Walgren told the court the evidence would show "Conrad Murray repeatedly acted with gross negligence, repeatedly denied appropriate care to his patient, Michael Jackson".
"That misplaced trust... cost Michael Jackson his life."
The jury was shown a photo of the 50-year-old singer's pale body lying on a stretcher after he died, and heard a recording of the pop star slurring while talking about planned comeback concerts.
Slurred audio of Michael Jackson taken from a message on Dr Conrad Murray's phone
Mr. Walgren said the audio, aired in public for the first time, had come from a message on Dr Murray's mobile phone.
"When people leave my show, I want them to say: 'I've never seen nothing like this in my life,'" says Jackson, apparently heavily drugged, on the audio.
"Go. Go. I've never seen nothing like this. Go. It's amazing. He's the greatest entertainer in the world."
The prosecutor said Jackson's difficulty in speaking on the recording showed that Dr Murray ought to have realized the star should not have taken any more propofol.
Mr. Walgren said that after administering what it says was the fatal dose, Dr Murray had not been attentive to Jackson's health.
The prosecutor said the doctor had left to go to the bathroom and checked his mobile phone.
It is a familiar scene. A media circus, with TV crews, satellite trucks and reporters crammed into a narrow street opposite the downtown LA courthouse.
Michael Jackson fans huddled outside, chanting: "Justice for Michael." Another group, equally passionate, supported Dr Conrad Murray. I Believe in You, I Stand By You, I Love you, said one banner.
The chants reached a crescendo as Michael Jackson's family arrived to take their eight seats in the public gallery. But the spectacle was much more subdued than America's so-called trial of the century - OJ Simpson's - at the same court.
Or, the opening day of Michael Jackson's trial in Santa Maria, in 2005, when he was the defendant. After the drama of the opening statements, the case will turn to scientific evidence. It could be tedious, but it will play out on television all the same.
"He [Murray] left him [Jackson] there, abandoned him to fend for himself," the prosecutor said.
Mr. Walgren said when Dr Murray found Jackson unconscious; he did not immediately call the emergency services, instead telling a bodyguard to do so 20 minutes later.
Dr Murray also did not mention to paramedics or emergency room doctors that he had administered propofol, according to the prosecutor.
During his lawyer's turn to speak, Dr Murray appeared to wipe tears from his eyes.
Defense attorney Ed Chernoff said it was drugs taken by Jackson himself which had proved fatal.
"He did an act without his doctor's knowledge, without his doctor's permission, against his orders, he did an act that caused his own death," Mr. Chernoff said.
He claimed the singer had swallowed pills of the sedative lorazepam on the morning of his death. That dosage was enough to put six people to sleep, said the defense.
He also said Jackson had given himself a dose of propofol, and that it had killed him instantly.
Mr. Chernoff said the two drugs together had created "a perfect storm in his body".
Chief prosecutor David Walgren: Michael Jackson trusted his life to the medical skills of Conrad Murray
Jackson "died so rapidly, so instantly, he didn't even have time to close his eyes", the defense lawyer added.
He also said that Dr Murray had been trying to wean Jackson off propofol, which the star used to call his "milk".
The prosecutor said Dr Murray had initially asked for $5m (£3.2m) to work with Jackson for a year, though accepted a lower rate of $150,000 per month.
But his contract to become the star's personal physician was never signed, and Dr Murray was never paid.
Jackson choreographer Kenny Ortega was the first prosecution witness to take the stand.
He told the court of Jackson's excitement about his series of comeback concerts.
Mr. Ortega also told the court that, days before Jackson's death, he expressed "deep concern" in an email to Jackson's concert promoter about the state of Jackson's health.
Defense lawyer Ed Chernoff said Michael Jackson ''did an act that caused his own death''
The email was written after a period of about a week when Jackson repeatedly failed to appear at rehearsals.
But in the last day or two before Jackson's death Mr. Ortega said the star seemed "full of energy, full of desire to work... It was a different Michael."
Footage of the star's rehearsals became part of a documentary, This Is It, directed by Mr. Ortega.
Paul Gongaware, co-chief executive of concert promoter AEG, followed Mr. Ortega to the stand as the second prosecution witness. He told the court about how he employed Dr Murray as Jackson's personal physician.
A number of witnesses, including security guards, paramedics and emergency room doctors, are yet to be called.
Propofol is usually administered intravenously, often during surgery.
Medical experts are expected to testify about the sedative's effects, as well as how a trace of the drug was found in Jackson's stomach.
Hundreds of Jackson fans gathered outside court earlier as the trial began. The trial is expected to last about five weeks.